THE SHOW "Restless"
WHEN | WHERE Friday and next Friday at 9 on Sundance Channel
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Based on William Boyd's 2006 World War II espionage thriller of the same name, "Restless" is about Eva Delectorskaya (Hayley Atwell), who's recruited by the British Secret Service to work in a supersecret propaganda arm, British Security Coordination, to sow lies about British war aims in the media. Then, one day, her handler, Lucas Romer (Rufus Sewell), ships her off to the United States. One particular mission, in New Mexico, seems easy enough, until something goes terribly wrong. Meanwhile, the story has a modern-day parallel track, in which Eva (now played by Charlotte Rampling) confides to her daughter, Ruth (Michelle Dockery, "Downton Abbey"), about her wartime past. She wants Ruth to locate Lucas (Michael Gambon). There's a good reason why.
MY SAY Settle in for a long ride here because inaptly named "Restless" takes its languorous time getting to where it wants to go. Also keep in mind that this is a novelization of a deeply researched novel by a distinguished author, who also wrote the screenplay. Boyd seems to want to leave nothing out, including most commas and periods, which is his right, of course, but as a viewer it is also your right to poke the screen now and then with a cattle prod. All that aside, "Restless" is very good.
Atwell does a fine job of selling Delectorskaya as the reluctant Mata Hari with a romantic core who -- nonetheless -- kills effortlessly and (almost) remorselessly. Rampling is her perfect counterpart in old age: Still beautiful, still cold as ice. This whole improbable tale begins to unfold almost as a shaggy dog story, with Dockery's Ruth as surrogate for the viewer. You (and she) aren't entirely certain whether to laugh, or recoil, although in time, the story becomes real enough, and so does the intrigue. Why does Delectorskaya need to find Romer 35 years after the fact (It's set in 1976)? Therein lies the key to a four-plus hour miniseries.
BOTTOM LINE Good performances, good period details, good payoff. But "Restless" would've worked better as a two-hour film.